Israelis are understandably disappointed that their dark-horse entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, Joseph Cedar’s Footnote, did not win the award. In addition to national pride, many would love to see the kippa-wearing, Sabbath-observant Cedar, who is fast becoming a Jewish cultural hero, step up to the stage to claim the prize. Perhaps another time; he’s still young and already has accomplished more than any other Israeli filmmaker.
But in case you were wondering what Cedar might have said in his acceptance speech, here’s what it could have sounded like:
At this time, many Israelis all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy. They are happy not just because of an important award or a film or filmmaker, but because at the time when talk of war, intimidation, and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country Israel is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics. I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.
In fact, except for two words, this was the speech given by Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian filmmaker who actually did win the award.
It is no accident that both Iran and Israel were represented among the nominees. Though it is often missing from the headlines, both nations are the bearers of great and ancient civilizations that rival any that have ever existed. And although the relationship between the Jewish and Iranian nations are presently strained, their encounter goes back over 2,500 years – when Cyrus the Great permitted the Jews to return to Judea and rebuild the Jerusalem Temple. Arguably the greatest Jewish cultural product in history, the Babylonian Talmud (studied in the very department that Cedar looks at in his film), was produced in a Sasanian Persian cultural matrix.
Next week, Jews will celebrate Purim, commemorating their survival of one of the darkest periods of the Jewish-Iranian encounter. Farhadi’s speech reminds us that there were better times as well. Perhaps there is time for the heirs of both great civilizations to hear his still, small voice beneath the din of rattling sabres.